The Angry Indian Goddesses must be smiling. The Indian film, directed by Pan Nalin, was the first runner-up for the Grolsch People’s Choice Awards at the Toronto International Film Festival that wrapped up on Sunday. The winner of the award was Room, a haunting drama told from the perspective of a five-year-old boy born to a teenager who was abducted and held prisoner for seven years in a room, the only world the child has ever known.
TIFF, the biggest film festival in North America, is traditionally considered to be the start of the awards season, and the People’s Choice Awards have frequently predicted Oscar winners and nominees. Recent TIFF winners that have gone on to win Oscars include 12 Years a Slave, The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire.
The premiere of Angry Indian Goddesses at the ornate Elgin theatre in downtown Toronto on Friday was a noisy affair with audiences cheering through the titles of the film and laughing out loud at the witty and rapid-fire banter between the characters. They gave a standing ovation to the film before director Nalin and all seven lead actresses of the film took to the stage for a Q&A session.
Angry Indian Goddesses provides a window into the lives of contemporary urban Indian women through the ever-present menace of sexual assault, and a society that judges every aspect of their lives.
In an interview, Tannishtha Chatterjee, one of the film’s Goddesses, said, “I feel the main reason for a lot of sexual violence against women is because we’re not allowed to express ourselves sexually. The day our society becomes open about that, then we don’t need to judge them, we won’t need to be violent towards them because the violence comes from the need to control women.”
A planned wedding – although the bride won’t say who she’s getting married to – brings together seven women at a house in Goa, where they learn about each other’s hopes, problems and pressures. This they do with some sharp humour, fights and yes, bitching, before something happens to awaken their inner angry goddess. There is no male lead in the film, although there are a couple of sympathetic male characters among a mostly intolerable lot.
Despite the profusion of lead characters, Nalin manages to provide each one with a unique identity and background. The camera presents a casual and intimate portrait, as if the viewer is in the room with the women, and part of their conversation. Much of the script was improvised by the actresses themselves. Tannishtha Chatterjee and Sandhya Mridul’s performances stand out, while newcomer Pavleen Gujral is also impressive.
Nalin said the film had found buyers in several countries, including even “broke” ones like Spain. An Indian release is on the cards before the end of the year. Now, Toronto’s award-savvy filmgoers have confirmed they too were sold on the Indian goddesses.
(Indira Kannan is a senior journalist currently in Toronto covering the international film festival, TIFF 2015)